FailHacking is GrowthHacking
10 mistakes and 1 success
Mistakes are part of the startup journey. Here’s a brutally honest short-list of what we screwed up at Azendoo, how we overcame these issues and why it actually created opportunities to grow, differently.
Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm. Winston Churchill
FAIL#1 — Pick a name … that doesn’t get stolen: Yep, we did that. Azendoo was once called Teamento. We were so happy with it that we talked about it on LinkedIn and got a German company to register it before we did. They proposed us to buy it back but we decided that a name is nothing against a great product. The money went to our dev and Azendoo became magic!
FAIL#2 — Find co-founders … who stick with you: We lost our CTO along the way. We almost panicked but then realized that it was the opportunity to change how the app was designed. If going on the market to find a CTO would have been OK, finding someone aligned with our vision and energy, was going to be painful. The answer came from our team. They stepped up and we organized our team differenty. Looking back in the mirror, this was a chance for us to empower our team.
FAIL#3 — Raise money … a second time: Raising money is always challenging. No excuse: if you have a good team, nice traction and superb execution, you should be fine. We were fast to raise our seed round, but really struggled for the second round. Our main problem? Failing to choose between European VCs (looking to fund a steady revenue stream) and US VCs (asking us to show 10x more acquisition traction, with a free app). Either way, choose and do it fast, or you’ll be in trouble
FAIL#4 — Complex agreements … are lethal: They feed lawyers, and are not applicable. Nothing to add here. If a VC draggs you into endless paperwork, ask yourself if you really want to make the deal and sit in that kind of board? Too much time on contracts means too much risk aversion from your investor. In other words, you are not aligned and that will be a problem, probably sooner than later ;-)
FAIL#5 — Going wide is not a good idea: We play on a huge market. B2B collaboration is so vast and the email problem such a big one to fix that we had a lot of room to play in. Too much room in fact. Going to market with famous web partners has been a good move but led us to address all kinds of business. the good news is, we have a clear market appraisal, lots of data and know where to focus now. We’re now addressing a global niche. That’s a totally different story.
FAIL#6 — Burn $$ on User Acquisition … only after you reach product retention: We tested a very long list of acquisition channels, which is fine, but failed to slow down on the “registered users drug”. This was totally silly as we had not yet reached product market fit to ensure both usage and retention, nor organic growth. The rule here is simple: don’t pay to acquire a lot of users until you can keep them in your app. You would be throwing cash out of the window.
FAIL#7 — Focus on advanced users is a mistake, if you mess up with newcomers: As time goes, if you use your own app like we do, you naturally become experts of your own app. So you logically design the new stuff for yourself or your team, as expert users in need to more powerful stuff. Trouble is, 98% of our users are not experts and we failed to onboard them faster, better and simpler. We failed to help them get quick wins so that they stick to it enough to get short term value.
FAIL#8 — Design an experience, not a product: That’s most probably our worst mistake, as it resonates with all the other, especially with FAIL#7. For too long, we designed features, not usages. We concentrated on app navigation instead of ergonomics. Now, we have undertood that “intuitive” is better that just “nice”. Expect some changes in Azendoo; some have arrived very recently:
FAIL#9 — Get powerful partners, but choose your ride: Finding partners is gratifying, unless you work for them and forget to focus on your own business. There’s different types of partnerships. As a startup, I proscribe resellers that require too much time against value creation. At Azendoo we tried that too, failed quick and finally identified that alliances with companies like Evernote, Dropbox, Box, Google etc. are much more relevant: they contribute to Azendoo by bringing relevant users, in a much larger scale and international reach. More importantly, they drive value to Azendoo usage.
FAIL#10 — Develop a payment system: I know it must sound crazy to you but we couldn’t find the right online payment solution back 3 years ago, so we f**ked up and made our own. It was stupid because we lost a good bunch of dev time for our own application. Bottom line, we’re going to kill it as it has become a liability to our business; it is difficult to maintain, web only and not on mobile, not connected to analytics… should I carry on?
BUT… We have a solid, awesome team. they helped us fail fast enough to concentrate on the good stuff. Here they are:
4 years ago, Ben, Chris and I had an idea of how we are going to work in the future and decided not to keep it for ourselves, rather go to market with a startup. Azendoo was born. It already seems like a life-long adventure and yet, we still have so many new ideas to execute. Some of them will succeed, some will fail.
I hope the above post will help your startup avoid some of the pitfalls we fell into. let me know your thoughts.
Do not fear failure. Embrace it and hack it, you’ll get growth.